Q&A with Jola Ariel, a Fort Wayne-based fashion design brand with a spring collection on Shein

Ever since she was a dancer at age three, Fort Wayne’s Jordan Latham has been immersed in the city’s creative culture.

Over the years, she left the world of performing arts Fort Wayne Dance Collective to the world of visual arts, design and fashion.

In 2020, she launched her own art brand, Jola Ariel Art & Boutique, where she began painting her designs onto denim and transferring them to other garments using a vinyl heat press. Then, in 2021, she had the opportunity to create an 8-piece collection for international online fashion retailer Shein as part of their The Shein X platform supports young independent creators.

Its pieces, which range from a relaxed maxi t-shirt dress to tees and joggers, are designed exclusively in plus sizes 0XL-4XL.

“I decided to start with plus sizes mainly because I’ve always been a curvy girl and have struggled to find styles and/or fits that fit properly, compliment my body and are also stylish,” says Latham.

His pieces are now available on the Shein websiteand all designs feature his signature bold patterns in neutral tones with pops of vibrant color.

Some pieces of Jola Ariel available on Shein.com.

Now, due to the success of her debut collection, Latham has been asked to return and collaborate with Shein on an upcoming Fall/Winter 2022 clothing line.

Input Fort Wayne caught up with Latham to learn more about her journey as a rising fashion designer in Fort Wayne and what inspires her.

Jordan Latham is the Fort Wayne-based artist behind Jola Ariel, a fashion and design brand with a Spring 2022 collection on Shein.

IFW: When did you first fall in love with art and design?

JL: There has never really been a single “moment” to fall in love with art. There were actually far too many to count. Growing up in the world of performing arts, Fort Wayne Dance Collective was like a second home to me. I started dancing at the age of three and made the transition to a West African drumming group at the age of 10. I spent my childhood there until I was 18. These “it moments” first came from dance and music. I fell in love with creating a masterpiece from movement and sound and the ability to “move” someone.

Guests shop for Jordan Latham’s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

My life at a young age outside of school was a very outward expression of art, so naturally, that it was eventually reflected in school too. I’ve always loved art classes, but it wasn’t until my 6th year at Memorial Park Middle School that I experienced a turning point. Mr. Woehnker was my favorite art teacher. It was in his 6th grade class that the light came on for me. He didn’t just say, “Good job, you’re good at this.” He was passionate about art; he believed in his students and took the time to challenge us.

Jordan Latham started Jola Ariel Art & Boutique by painting his designs on denim and transferring them to other garments using a vinyl heat press.

That year was the first time I did a still life in watercolor. I remember being so frustrated because it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, and I wanted to throw it away. Mr. Woehnker encouraged me. He told me to hold on and keep going. After that particular task was completed, he helped me enter a nationwide contest, and it not only ended up placing one of 30 winners out of thousands who entered, but I even ended up getting a check , which of course, was such an experience at that age. It was not only a major turning point for me in my journey as an artist, but an important lesson in perseverance and self-confidence.

Jordan Latham is the Fort Wayne-based artist behind Jola Ariel, a fashion and design brand with a Spring 2022 collection on Shein.

IFW: What inspires your artistic and production style?

JL: I am so inspired. It would be easier to respond to what doesn’t inspire me. Sometimes I am inspired by a single word or message. Other times it’s someone I’ve seen or someone I know, and sometimes it’s purely emotional. Although I don’t always have a recognizable style or signature when it comes to my works, I tend to create a lot more women than anything else simply because I express my own experiences as a woman, and I am also lucky to be surrounded by so many phenomenal women who inspire me on a regular basis.

Jordan Latham started Jola Ariel Art & Boutique by painting his designs on denim and transferring them to other garments using a vinyl heat press.

IFW: How did you move from two-dimensional art to fashion design?

JL: Fashion is an art that has always attracted me. Art and fashion are one. They attract emotion, make you feel and inspire you. I remember getting in trouble at a very young age for cutting up my clothes and somehow creating an outfit without sewing anything together. Fashion for me was just another way to express myself. When I feel the most authentic, I feel the best and when I feel the best, I do my best. This kind of confidence seeps into every aspect of your life. If you don’t feel well, you don’t always perform well.

I really want to be able to feel my best, and more importantly, I want to give that feeling to the world around me. Whether it’s from the clothes you wear or the art in your home, you deliberately create a sacred space for yourself that causes you to exhale more peacefully and confidently.

Guests shop for Jordan Latham’s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

In 2020, when I started Jola Ariel, I knew I wanted to eventually incorporate fashion into my designs, but I had no professional experience. I had previously let that same fear keep me from delving into my artwork again as an adult, making me believe that I had to be some type of skilled or “house name” to pursue art. art or fashion as a profession. After bothering myself enough, my creative brain was exploding and I had to do something about it, so I realized I didn’t want to wait another 10 years to start something I was passionate about.

In 2021 I decided I was going to start creating my own experience and start somewhere. So I invested in clothes, a Cricut®, fabric paint, and went to work at Youtube University. I soon started putting some of my designs on clothes with the vinyl heat press and also started painting denim.

Jordan Latham started Jola Ariel Art & Boutique by painting his designs on denim and transferring them to other garments using a vinyl heat press.

After creating a portfolio, I started looking for opportunities for future designers. I came across a designer opportunity for Shein, applied, and got my first design gig, creating an eight-piece collection for their Spring Designer Series. Turns out it was done well enough that they asked me back for the Fall/Winter 2022 collection.

Guests shop for Jordan Latham’s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: Tell us about your Fall/Winter 2022 collaboration with Shein. What can we expect from you in 2022?

JL: I am currently working on the Fall/Winter 2022 collection for Shein at the moment. Although my Jola Ariel fashion generally stays fairly neutral in color and simple in design, I’m happy to step out of that a bit and play around with more colors and patterns.

Guests shop for Jordan Latham’s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: Do you have any favorite local or global fashion designers?

JL: In fact, I don’t have any favorites when it comes to designers. Not because I don’t like or appreciate any of them, but my own style is like a melting pot of all fashion genres, and it’s constantly evolving. I’m a bit of a shopaholic myself, and I will say there’s nothing quite like checking out a new clothing store in or around Fort Wayne!

Guests shop for Jordan Latham’s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: As a native of Fort Wayne, what are your hopes for the future of the art and design scene here?

JL: I think downtown Fort Wayne has definitely “rebounded” over the past decade when it comes to the arts. From festivals and murals to all the farmers and craft markets, downtown has certainly enhanced its Midwestern aesthetic for the visitor. I would, however, like to see this creative wave spread to the rest of Fort Wayne in hopes that we can build a solid and, more importantly, respected foundation for the next generation of artists, designers, and creatives.

Guests shop for Jordan Latham’s designs for Jola Ariel Art & Boutique at a launch party in Fort Wayne.

IFW: Where can we follow your work?

JL: You can follow my work on Facebook and instagram to @jola.ariel.

Joseph E. Golightly